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KPCC's LA school board candidate survey: Lisa Alva, District 2

Lisa Alva is running for the Los Angeles Unified School Board in the March 7 primary election. Alva hopes to represent District 2, which runs from Koreatown through much of east L.A.
Campaign Photo/Facebook
Lisa Alva is running for the Los Angeles Unified School Board in the March 7 primary election. Alva hopes to represent District 2, which runs from Koreatown through much of east L.A.

Lisa Alva is running for the Los Angeles Unified School Board in the March 7 primary election. Alva hopes to represent District 2, which runs from Koreatown through much of east L.A.

Alva is one of three candidates running for the District 2 seat. Click here to view survey responses from other candidates in the race.

KPCC lightly edited all responding candidates' answers for spelling, grammar and style. KPCC is presenting candidates' answers in full, but does not vouch for the accuracy of any statements they make. Here are Alva's responses to KPCC's candidate survey:

Why do you want to be a member of the L.A. Unified School Board?

As a veteran teacher in LAUSD I have always had ideas about how to do things better, cheaper and more cooperatively. I always considered how the whole system could run better, because so many impractical decisions kept coming down year after year. When I started to question and challenge the district, the union, and the reform decisions being made about my school, I realized there was very little concern at the top for what is happening in classrooms. I believe an intelligent, collaborative teacher can improve classrooms and schools from K-Adult, and help protect public education in Los Angeles from damaging influences currently rooted in Washington, D.C.

Everyone in my family went to public schools in Los Angeles. I have served at schools where I live since 1998. I feel protective towards the students in our public schools because I see the need for every graduate to earn a living wage and education as the key to it — education should be high-quality, free, and accessible to every child who lives here. I’m frustrated with the disconnection between management and classrooms. I have the courage to take action for our collective future.

Superintendent Michelle King is in her thirteenth month in the district’s top job. On an A-F scale, how would you grade her first year? Please explain your answer.

Teachers with a growth mindset believe everyone can learn and improve, and a grade of “Fail” should instead be the grade “not yet” (Dweck, 2014). After a year, we would hope that a leader would have had time to get oriented and get us started on a path of progress. In the trenches, we haven’t seen any real differences in the last year — not yet. King’s three-year strategic plan is full of ideas for what schools and teachers need to do, but has no material commitment from her, the district or the Board of Education. This is the number one problem in LAUSD!  It’s time to get into solutions and commit to action. Procrastination is making things worse.

Please name one idea or policy you don’t see Superintendent King, district leaders or the school board discussing often enough that — if elected — you’d work on either implementing or expanding in L.A. Unified?

Truancy is a huge problem — it contributes to the dropout rate, expensive credit-recovery systems, costs us millions and millions of dollars, and leaves thousands of children in potentially dangerous isolation. We are supposed to find out what’s happening to kids who miss three or more days of school; state law is quite clear on the followup protocol and consequences of ignoring it. Money is always a problem, and now it’s a very big problem. Why have we reduced the ranks of Pupil Services and attendance counselors (“truant officers”) when they are the only position that brings money to the district?  It’s time to find out what’s happening to all the missing kids and bring them back to school. We can’t teach students who are absent.

Do you believe expanding “school choice” policies (giving parents more ability to choose the school their child attends) is a force for eliminating or exacerbating the educational opportunity gap between privileged and less-privileged racial, linguistic or socioeconomic groups? Please explain your rationale.

In LAUSD we have had lots of choice for years now. We have magnet schools, pilot schools, K-12 span schools, schools with career, arts and social policy foci. There’s plenty of choice. From the classroom, I’ve seen that expanding “school choice” policies is a faulty policy that actually leaves behind the youth who literally have no choice because their families cannot or will not navigate through labyrinthine “school choice” processes.

I taught at a neighborhood school where parents often had little education, facility with English, worked multiple low-income jobs, managed families in adverse situations and faced their own challenges of documentation, or mental or physical illness. The students from these families need a good education the most, to rise out of poverty and meet the future head-on, and this must happen at the neighborhood school.  Ironically, these students and these schools are footing the bill for others’ “choice.” This is not speculation or rhetoric. This is the truth that I and thousands of other teachers have witnessed and that makes us sick now.

How, if at all, would you change L.A. Unified’s approach to “authorizing” and overseeing charter schools? (Your answer may touch on any facet of the relationship — from vetting applications to open new charter schools; renewing or revoking existing charters; monitoring charter schools’ performance, governance and finance; handling Prop. 39 campus-sharing arrangements.)

The losses our schools — and my classroom — have suffered in the last 12 years have biased me against charter schools. I am pained every time a child shows up right before testing time, or at the end of a semester, and the paperwork says she is transferring from a charter. When I ask, she always says, “I just didn’t like that school,” but the truth is these young people seldom perform well in class, for diverse reasons. Many LAUSD teachers share this experience.

Before allowing a charter to open, I would want to make sure that the neighborhood school was well-staffed and well-maintained, that everyone on site was aware of the school’s goals and was supported and supervised in their work. That’s where our resources should go, rather than just giving up and allowing a charter to open in a community.

Having lived through several reform experiments and co-locations, I know firsthand that sharing a campus is more like fighting for territory. Co-locations do not benefit the host school financially or in any other way.

L.A. Unified faces long-term financial challenges, including declining enrollment and rising costs for pensions and employee benefits. A blue-ribbon panel in Nov. 2015 also highlighted further issues that cloud the district’s financial future. If elected, what immediate steps would you take to address these financial challenges?

  1. Team up with local, state and federal officers and agencies to revisit Proposition 13 and reform the way large corporations are taxed on their real estate. We need a stable source of funding for classrooms and instruction from K-Adult school.
  2. Audit the LAUSD offices at Beaudry. Everyone has metrics for how teachers should perform; there must be metrics for how staffers perform as well. Every job description has desired outcomes that can be stated and measured. We must all be focused on the goal of reducing expenses, streamlining effort, serving our students and providing a high-quality education. It’s ridiculous that management positions have increased 22 percent recently while teachers have been reduced 9 percent. Maybe we need to re-think all the job roles downtown and eliminate those that do not directly contribute to the well-being of our school system.  
  3. Identify out-of-the box solutions to systemic problems and implement them immediately. Education Pioneers Fellows discovered in 2012 that LAUSD buys six different kinds of chicken nuggets. Why? Outdated bungalows take up valuable open space and add to an astronomical DWP bill. What are they still doing on our many campuses besides blighting the community?They’re depressing to be in, too. We are warehousing school supplies instead of using modern inventory control and delivery methods that create profit for companies like Amazon. Are we concerned about using our money efficiently or protecting union jobs?
  4. Health benefits are a necessity, but a luxury for families that already have health benefits. People should not double up on health insurance coverage unless there is a compelling reason for doing so. If my spouse is on my LAUSD insurance it costs the district money that I may not need to spend, if he already has coverage. Let’s find a way to curb this kind of extra expense that no one is monitoring.

The L.A. Unified board has set a district-wide goal of a 100 percent high school graduation rate. How, if at all, would you change the district’s approach to meeting this goal? (Or would you change the goal itself?)

Any high school teacher will tell you that the graduation rate is suspect, that online credit recovery is less than meaningful and that we can’t force kids to think and learn under any circumstances. This is reality. If you want a cultural shift, you have to grow it from the bottom up, one year at a time.  

I am unaware of any concrete plans to remedy the graduation rate beyond the District once again telling schools what they need to do. But here’s an idea: DOUBLE DOWN ON PUBLIC EDUCATION.

  • Starting in 2017-18, make first grade a priority for reduced class size and 100 percent literacy and numeracy. Amend the volunteer requirements for parents who want to be in their child’s classroom. LAUSD should pay for fingerprinting and background checking in return for a commitment to serve in the classroom on a weekly (or regular) basis. Every first grade classroom should have at least two adults.
  • The following year, continue supporting first grade and add the same supports to second grade. Provide every affected classroom with fresh classroom libraries and math manipulatives, or allow every teacher an allowance for purchasing instructional materials for math. Allow choice - do not be prescriptive or fall back on publisher-provided materials as “the answer.”
  • In the third year, add third grade for reduced class size and parent volunteer support. Widen the scope to include grandparents or other adults who want to volunteer in classrooms — pay their freight for their commitment of time. If we believe it takes a village, let’s prove it. Also: survey the number of classrooms using Accelerated Reader (an online reading program that monitors growth) and personally check in with those teachers in order to determine satisfaction and efficacy with Accelerated Reader. For teachers wanting to opt out of Accelerated Reader, require some comparable program and regular reports of reading levels.
  • In the third year of this graduated rollout, begin serious accountability in the elementary grades for reading and math proficiency. Retain students who are not making progress. Add support where students and teachers are struggling: meaningful collaboration makes a huge difference — grading work together can turn the tide. Where students and schools are really struggling, modify the school week so that teachers are spending at least a half day together in meaningful professional development that is anchored in the school’s Single Plan for Student Achievement and related data. Require school sites to develop and share data-based goals for growth or proficiency, while providing time and expert guidance where needed.

Continue to add grade levels for reduced class size, parent or volunteer engagement, full participation in a reading development program and math engagement, with 100% accountability from students before being promoted to the next grade.  At-risk students fail to do classwork in ninth grade, mostly because they were not required to in earlier grades.  We have to stop moving students along just because a year went by.
This kind of serious accountability for students, with support from well-informed and -supported teachers will help us regain our credibility in communities where LAUSD schools are a joke and kids go to “cram schools” for parent-approved and -required tutoring.

Other issues that must be addressed for a genuine graduation rate include:

  • Fully staffed and funded Adult School so that students have high-quality teachers and curriculum for making up missing credits. Online credit recovery is highly suspect for most educators and parents, and not taken seriously by most students. Adult school also used to provide useful classes for parents.
  • Educators — including administrators — in elementary schools seldom, if ever, share goals and information with middle school teachers, and middle school teachers have no District-sponsored opportunities to meet with high school teachers. The various levels of schools operate in silos, with span schools the only possible exception. We cannot facilitate preparedness or success without these conversations. Ideally, educators in families of schools would meet at least twice a year to share expectations and information about their school community.
  • Attendance and truancy are beyond a teacher’s control, but within the scope of responsibility for the District. Doubling down on public education means making and keeping a true commitment to tracking down students who have vanished and providing access to resources that families need.

Finally, Los Angeles Unified has a tremendous resource in its thoughtful, invested, innovative educators. If we pulled a group of employees together from across the district, I am certain we could develop any number of effective solutions that would be effective and economical. We teach because learning is an awesome reward, and when our students succeed, so do we.

KPCC lightly edited all responding candidates' answers for spelling, grammar and style. KPCC is presenting candidates' answers in full, but does not vouch for the accuracy of any statements they make.

  • Can I vote in this election? It depends on where you live; each L.A. Unified School Board seat represents a specific geographic area, or "board district." This year, the seats in District Two, Four and Six are up for election. Plug in your address here to find out if you can vote. 
  • How can I register to vote? Here's a website where you can begin the registration process, and here's another website where you can check whether you're already registered.
  • How does this election work? This is a primary election. Voters select candidates from their own board district. If a candidate emerges with a majority of the vote on March 7, that candidate wins the seat. If no candidate wins a majority on March 7, the two candidates who received the most votes move on to a runoff election which will be held on May 16.